ROME – The H5N8 strain of bird flu recently detected in Europe poses a major threat to the poultry sector, especially in countries along the Black Sean and East Atlantic migratory routes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned.

FAO said poultry industries in countries with low resources are especially vulnerable to the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain. Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom all have confirmed the presence of the strain on poultry farms. Animal health officials in Germany also found the virus in a wild bird.

"H5N8 has so far not been confirmed to infect people," FAO noted. "However, it is highly pathogenic for domestic poultry, causing significant mortality in chickens and turkeys. The virus can also infect wild birds, which show little signs of illness. It is known from other influenza viruses that wild birds are able to carry the virus long distances."

FAO recommends at-risk countries:

• increase surveillance efforts for the early detection of H5N8 and other influenza viruses;

• maintain and further strengthen rapid response capacities of veterinary services;

• reinforce biosecurity measures, with particular emphasis on minimizing contact between domestic poultry and wild birds;

• raise awareness of hunters and other individuals who may come into contact with wildlife in order to provide early information on sick or dead wild birds.

FAO added that H5N8 has not resulted in human infections, but the virus is related to H5N1  which killed nearly 400 individuals and hundreds of millions of birds.